Initial reactions to Ninja Theory’s brand new take on Devil May Cry’s Dante were poor, to say the least. He came over as more of a stroppy problem child, or an emo teenager, rather than the confident, smooth operator we know and love. Fans were outraged at this thin, moody, dark haired child, and almost refused to believe he was Dante at all. However, now it has been confirmed as a reboot rather than a sequel, and this is indeed a different Dante, people finally seem to be warming to the stylish demon hunter again.
So the “Dante” that we have seen so far is a different Dante starting a new story from a parallel universe; It all seems to be going a little comic-booky. Not that this is a bad thing; it’s clear that Ninja Theory wanted the artistic licence to rebrand the game and try new things, and they have to a point, however from my impressions they haven’t deviated too far. He is still full of swagger, sarcasm and one-liners; slow him to a walk in any part of the game, and he casually ambles along, swinging his arms like Noel Gallagher on a day off, stylishly unflustered by the chaos around him. The writing, too, is equally superb. During a memorable boss fight with a gigantic witch/slug creature, it was just as much a battle of wits as it was a physical fight, as the witch screams foul obscenities each time Dante scores a hit, and he jibes back just the same, poking fun at her all the way until she crashes into a river. Dante proceeds to break her handhold and send her crashing to her death in the torrent with a cool “You know your problem? You’re too clingy.”
Towards the end of the first level, I was trapped in a collapsing church, and the closer I got to the exit, the further away it moved, thanks to the floor breaking apart and extending by some demonic power. I finally made it, smashed through the huge stained glass window in spectacular fashion, and landed on my feet, with the church crashing down behind me. Upon being asked what took him so long by his brand new partner Cat, Dante simply shrugged and replied, “It dragged on. You know….Church.” At that I was just about ready to stand up and cheer.
The last paragraph highlights Ninja Theory’s increased emphasis on the environment, how it can change in a split second, and also how Dante can affect this and use it to his advantage. In the demo’s opening, swaggers down a main street, long coat flowing behind him, and as he passes another citizen, he idly knocks a can out of their hand. As it turns out, this wasn’t the best of moves, as a CCTV camera suddenly morphs into a giant, demonic eyeball, and Dante gets pulled into another realm, where the very streets and buildings move and warp. Soon enough, a walk down the street turns into a chase scene, except what Dante is trying to escape is the city itself. Pavements shatter and fall away, buildings slam together to form dead ends, and ceilings and streets collapse in on themselves, as Dante tries to outrun and lose sight of the Demonic powers.
This setting draws a contrast to the slower, gradual transformations of normal places to something more sinister, as seen in previous games. The menacing backdrop is there from the beginning. Set in a city named “Limbo City”, it lives up to its name, as citizens shuffle along more like brain dead zombies than actual people. Once Dante draws attention to himself and the world warps around him, citizens become nothing more than shadows, and intimidating words and messages appear out of thin air. It gives the impression of some sort of Totalitarian, Demon controlled regime.
All the while, of course, Dante is hounded by all sorts of demonic enemies, of which I saw many different types during my time with the game. Fans of the series will be pleased to know that the combat is as good as ever, both in the action and the superb choreography, and follows the same basic premise. The combat is extremely fluid and easy to pick up; two button presses, and Dante was gracefully swinging his sword in huge, spinning arcs, dancing around the combat area and flinging enemies up into the sky. The traditional Combo Rank system is back as well, and while it is easy to pick up the pad and look good; if you want to get that SSS rank, you’d better work for it.
There have been two major changes to the combat this time round, however. This is in the form of Dante’s Angel and Devil powers. Just one button is used for Dante’s “normal” sword attacks, and another for his twin pistols Ebony and Ivory, but hold down either shoulder button while attacking, and Dante’s sword will transform either into the angelic Scythe, Osiris, or the hulking demonic Battleaxe, Arbiter. Switching between all 4 different forms of attack is seamless, and this makes the amount of combos possible almost never ending. Skilled players could quite easily vanquish all enemies in the fight with one long attack chain, as Dante dances, shoots and slices his way across the map.
There are a couple more new powers that also help with this, Dante can use a whip-like demonic tentacle to grab enemies and pull them towards him, similar to Nero’s Devil Bringer, and when he’s in the air, he can dash through the air at superhuman speeds, thanks to another new Angelic Power. These are not just limited to combat, they are also used to help Dante move and navigate his way around this constantly warping and shifting environment, using his whip-like power to pull out ledges from thin air, then using his angelic power to grab ledges and pull himself towards them, before dashing over impossibly large gaps in a split second.
The one thing I do wish I’d had a chance to look at in more detail was the music. For some reason there were no headphones with the preview, and the show floor was far too loud to hear much at all. Devil May Cry has always been famed for its heavy rock riffs; keeping the gothic theme running through the entire of the game. I especially loved it in the previous games when in combat, the higher the ranking someone got for a combo, the faster, louder and more frenetic the heavy metal riffs became, until they got to an A or S ranking, and Dante actually sped up, and the music was pounding, all subtly encouraging you to do better and push yourself further. I couldn’t hear anything similar this time around, but I do sincerely hope something like that returns.
All in all, DMC; Devil May Cry seems to be an excellent reboot to the long-established and well respected franchise, and it’s my opinion that long term fans should give this new Dante a chance, he may look radically different, but just because he doesn’t have white hair doesn’t mean he should be discounted straight away, he has retained his trademark wit, and the increased emphasis on the environment and how threatening it can be, as well as superb looking and feeling combat means this is a title well worthy of anticipation. All I can say is, roll on 2013.